It’s not that the Anaheim Ducks can’t be stopped right now. It’s that they aren’t being beat right now. The difference? That they’re playing hockey about as well as anyone they’ve faced and better than some, but nowhere near a mistake-free game. It’s just that they’re getting a break or two and a good performance from at least one of three—forwards, defense, goaltender—on a given night.
On Monday with the Sharks in town, it was the goalie, Viktor Fasth, who let in just one goal on the way to a 2-1 win. This is Fasth’s third game, and he’s stopped 70 of 74 shots to date, posting a GAA of 1.30 and a save percentage of .946. Both stats put him second in the league.
His most remarkable moment in the game came when the Ducks were on a 5-on-3 in the third period. Sheldon Souray muffed a puck at the San Jose blueline, which allowed Patrick Marleau to burst past him and down the ice. As he came down the left side, Fasth got set, and as Marleau skated across the goal crease, he dove out with his stick extended, following Marleau across the front of the net. The puck skittered away into the corner.
After the game, the goalie described the moment to IH: “I just tried to wait and see what he was going to do. He was going, I thought that he was going across, so I gave it a shot and it worked. I don’t think I hit the puck, but I hit the stick and that was enough. I’m glad for that, because it can make you look pretty silly if you miss that one. I was glad that he missed that.”
His coach also said that the goalkeeper was the best penalty killer and that “I think we have to work on our 5-on-3.” Of course, that’s not true. Teams rarely spend practice time on this, since it’s too dangerous for the defenders.
Bruce Boudreau had said a couple of games ago that it looked like he was fighting the puck. On this night, Fasth was more secure. He picked one out of a crowd when a wrist shot came from the point late in period one. With a minute and a half left in the second, Martin Havlat took a turn-around wrister from the slot, and Fasth made his best save of the night, with a leg.
Of course, he credited his teammates for the win. “The guys played incredible in front of me. They kept the guys outside, and I was facing the shots from far outside.” It was a radical understatement of his performance. “It’s getting better and better, the [understanding of] the way they play over here. Every day that goes by, it gets better I think” was how he summed up his comfort level to date.
On the subject of breaks, the Ducks’ first goal came on a bizarre bounce. The Sharks were ahead 1-0 and had held the lead for a period and a bit into the third when their defense tried to clear one around the boards from left to right. Instead of rolling around the dasher, the puck hit a seam and bounced directly, diagonally into the crease. Saku Koivu had seen the redirection and rushed to slam the puck home. The goaltender was caught looking the wrong way.
After the game, Koivu said, “I’ve seen a video of Washington playing against Pittsburgh or something and they shot it from the blueline or the red line and it went in, so those things happen. If it happens to your team, you’re cursing the boards, but today we’re happy about it.”
Fasth had earlier said, “It was a lucky bounce for us, but it was a very important goal for us. I’m glad we were able to win. It seems like it happens every once in a while, but of course I’m glad it didn’t happen to me.”
Boudreau also commented on the goal. “Hey listen, it happens. It’s happened against us many, many times, in my history. When you get a chance and it happens in your favor, you just take it and say thank you.” What none of these guys realize is how often this happens frequently in this building. Find JS Giguere and ask him. (He’s in Colorado, if you’ve forgotten.)
Coming into the game, the Sharks and Ducks looked remarkably even. Both have good power plays. The coaches of the two teams are in possession of the top two winning percentages in the league. They were the fastest two modern-era coaches to reach 200 wins. If there was a difference between them it was that the Ducks were quite weak on their PK. They were 29th, where San Jose was tied for 6th. The good news was that the Ducks were giving away few chances, with only 70 minutes in penalties, 2nd in the NHL. The Sharks were 20th in the league with 126 minutes.
Each team took a number of penalties, with (excluding a fight between Matt Beleskey and Ryane Clowe) six minors for each team. All the goals were even strength. The Ducks’ second goal came with about six and a half minutes to go. The win puts the Ducks a game behind San Jose in the Pacific, but they’ve got a game in hand, so call it all even. Were they in the East, the Ducks would be tied for first in conference with Boston.
Boudreau’s success will continue if his troops keep responding to what he does. On this night, he made a number of switches from what the team featured Saturday in their win over the Kings. First, as noted, Fasth, the backup, was in net. Second, one defense pairing was different with the absence of Cam Fowler. He was hit by Jarret Stoll on Saturday, suffering a concussion. In his place was Sami Vatanen, a rookie who had made his debut on Friday. He was paired with Bryan Allen. Last time out, Fowler was paired with the big former Vancouver draftee.
Each forward line also has undergone some shifting over the past couple of games. The first line on Monday had Daniel Winnik with Perry and Getzlaf. Winnik had jumped out to a torrid start, with five goals in the first four games. He has not recorded a point since and most recently was on the third line.
The second line, which coming out of camp had Nick Bonino at center but which saw Bobby Ryan playing center starting Friday, featured Ryan, Selanne, and Matt Beleskey. The latter was moved down from line one.
The third line was Cogliano, Koivu, and Kyle Palmieri. The third of these had played on line two Saturday.
Confused? Think of it this way: Winnik moves up from three to one, which slots Beleskey down a line, which slots Palmieri down a line.
Line four saw a change as well, with Etem and Bonino joined by Brad Staubitz. He had been sitting since playing five minutes of game four against Nashville. It was his only prior appearance this year. To make room for him, Devante Smith-Pelly was not in the lineup.
Perhaps it was his lineup switches that Boudreau was referencing when he said, “I keep telling them, we’re not a bad team, and we’re going to get better. We’ve got a lot of young guys that we’re trusting in, in important roles, and I mean, they’re going to get better. It’s a work in progress, but it shows when you can hang with the big boys that you’re not bad.” He later added, “I don’t know if I expected 6-1-1, but I expected to be a very contending team the whole way.”
Koivu summed it up well when he said, “We’re finding ways to win games even when we’re not playing our best, and I think the game in San Jose was a lot better for our team, and we ended up losing. This time, we get two points, and we’ll take them, because for us, the next six games are on the road, tough games against tough teams.”
Boudreau cited the team’s record to say that this wasn’t a “make or break road trip,” but he also recited the lineup of teams the Ducks will play, and it’s formidable. “Those aren’t any weak sisters. We’ll have to bring our A games every night.”
Emerson Etem had a fantastic game. He carried the puck to the net, splitting two defensemen and going right in on goal before having it knocked off his stick by the goalie, Thomas Greiss. He also was in front of the net when Sheldon Souray put the winning toward the San Jose goal. It was a slapshot, and Etem waved at it in front. The puck had hit a San Jose stick and risen as it headed to Etem in the slot. His reaction at first suggested he had gotten the goal as he raised his arms like the guys would come to him. But he quickly rushed to the point along with his linemates (in fact, he was on with Perry and Getzlaf) to congratulate Souray.
Getzlaf and Souray led the team with four shots apiece. Beleskey and Staubitz had four hits each. The former fought Clowe after delivering a hit to Douglas Murray which Clowe took exception to. That Sharks player was assessed a two-minute instigator and ten-minute misconduct in addition to his five for fighting.
On the matter of helping one’s goaltender, the Ducks blocked 24 shots, the Sharks 15. San Jose had a slight swing in faceoff wins, taking 54 percent of them.
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